How the story began
The Gloucester Community Energy Co-operative (GCEC) started life in 2010 as FiVE Valleys energy Co-op, formed by a group of individuals who wished to install community based green energy systems in the Five Valleys area around Stroud. A few months after they were formed, Gloucestershire Resource Centre (GRC) – based at City Works in Gloucester – wanted to install solar photovoltaic panels but didn’t have the capital to fund the project. The GRC contacted The Solar Coop for advice on how to set up a community scheme to fund them. Kevin Frea from the Solar Coop called a meeting at GRC of relevant organisations in Gloucestershire that might be interested, which included representatives from FiVE and Transition Town Cheltenham.
The aims of the GCEC are to enable local communities and individuals to take part in exciting renewable energy schemes across the county, and to encourage energy saving initiatives. By installing solar panels on community buildings, and developing suitable sites for wind and hydro schemes, GCEC aims to give everyone in Gloucestershire a chance to benefit from low carbon, locally generated electricity.
Initially GCEC considered developing renewable energy installations at a number of sites throughout Gloucestershire. However plans were scaled back to focus on the City Works installation when the Government announced that they were going to bring forward the deadline for reducing the Feed-in Tariff payment. The Renewable Energy Co-operative who are also a South West based co-operative, installed the 44.6 kWp solar photovoltaic system in December 2011, in time to meet the Feed-in Tariff deadline. The array comprises 186 photovoltaic panels (each 240w), three SMA inverters as well as a public display. The roof has a plain unshaded surface that extends 220 feet in length and faces south west.
In order to get the installation completed and commissioned before the tariff change date, GCEC raised £105,000 in 3 weeks in short term loans from well wishers and supporters. They also negotiated a risk-share contract with the installer to mitigate against failing to meet the deadline.
In the spring of 2012 GCEC published its share prospectus, and the money raised through the share issue was used to pay off the loans. The minimum investment was £240, and the maximum investment was £20,000. Many of those lending money converted some or all of their loan to investment. In less than two months the full sum was raised from local people who automatically became members of the Co-operative when they invested, with the aim of creating a more sustainable, ethical and local system of energy production.
There are 49 members who each subscribed to an average of just over £2000 of share each. Almost everyone lives or works in Gloucestershire.
The income from the Feed-in Tariff is used to pay interest to investors (at 5%), pay an income to Gloucestershire Resource Centre, the registered charity who own City Works, to help them become more sustainable, build a capital repayment fund to repay the original investments, and to administer these activities.
The FiT was initially paid at 32.9 p and is inflation proofed.
What is City Works?
The Gloucestershire Resource Centre (GRC) owns the City Works building where it delivers its Scrapstore service and hires out conference and art facilities. The Scrapstore diverts clean waste materials from local businesses to be reused as art, craft, play and educational resources by local groups and schools. City Works is also a base for fourteen other social enterprises including Fair Shares and Co-operative Futures.
When City Works received their first quarterly electricity bill after the panels were installed it showed a reduction for the corresponding quarter from 12,630 to 7,720 kWh, suggesting that they’re using about half of the electricity produced.
The main aims of the Gloucestershire Community Energy Co-op are to develop local renewable energy generation that reduces dependence on energy generated from fossil fuels, thus cutting carbon emissions, and to provide support for local communities by lowering their energy costs.
Now that the project at City Works has proved so successful and the GCEC is on a strong financial and legal footing, we are turning our attention to trying to find new projects within Gloucestershire.